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Randall, Sir Richard John (Dick) (1906–1982)

by Selwyn Cornish

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Richard John Randall (1906-1982), public servant, was born on 13 October 1906 at Birkdale, Queensland, second son of Queensland-born parents George Randall, farmer, and his wife Harriett, née Willard.  George Randall was his grandfather.  Educated at Wellington Point and Wynnum State schools, Dick left high school after two years to train as a woolclasser at Brisbane Technical College.  From 1924 to 1932 he worked on sheep stations in western Queensland.

Moving to Sydney, Randall studied privately while employed part time with Commonwealth Wool & Produce Co. Ltd and at 26 gained his matriculation.  He acquired accountancy qualifications by correspondence and submitted articles for publication in Smith’s Weekly, of which he became finance editor.  Enrolling in economics at the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1936), he graduated with first-class honours.  In 1937 he won a Carnegie research scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies at the university but instead joined the New South Wales Premier’s Department as a research officer.

In 1940 Randall took up a post in the Commonwealth Treasury in Canberra.  Having learned to fly Tiger Moths in Queensland, he hoped to become a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force but was prevented by poor eyesight.  On 27 May 1941 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.  Initially with the 5th Training Battalion, he was transferred in July to the 1st Armoured Training Regiment.  Appointed acting corporal in September, he was attached to the 2/6th Armoured Regiment.  He spent most of the war in Western Australia; he was demobilised on 2 November 1945.  On 8 January that year at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, he had married Nora Barry Clyne, a private secretary.

Resuming duties at Treasury as a temporary clerk, Randall secured permanent employment as a principal research officer in 1946.  He was rapidly promoted.  When (Sir) Frederick Wheeler left the Treasury in 1952 for a post at Geneva, Randall replaced him as first assistant-secretary in charge of the general financial and economic policy branch.  In 1957 he became deputy-secretary to Sir Roland Wilson.  Renowned for his vigorous and colourful prose, often imitated by acolytes, he wrote the treasurer’s budget and other major speeches; he was the principal author (1956-66) of the annual economic surveys.

Randall enjoyed close working relationships with Wilson, who liked Randall’s 'down-to-earth quality', the treasurer (Sir) Arthur Fadden and (Sir) Robert Menzies who, when prime minister, insisted that Randall accompany him on overseas visits.  He advocated policies that would support and sustain the long-term growth and development of the Australian economy.  Like Wilson, he was not dedicated to fine-tuning the economy for stabilisation purposes along Keynesian lines.  In 1958 Treasury’s annual publication, The Australian Economy, expressed Randall’s view that economic growth would provide a 'sustaining force of undoubted strength'.

Knighted in 1964, Randall was appointed secretary to the Treasury in 1966, succeeding Wilson who had retired prematurely to allow his deputy to fill the post.  Randall himself retired in 1971; he then chaired a government advisory committee on wool policy and served as a member of the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council.  He was a director of public companies, including Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd (1972-76), Legal and General Assurance Society Ltd (1972-79), Network Finance Ltd (1972-80, chairman 1973-79), Interim Mortgage Finance Ltd (chairman 1973-79) and Australian Landtrusts Ltd (1974-79).

Sir Richard was self-effacing, modest and laconic, and had a dry sense of humour.  He continued to roll his own cigarettes, enjoyed a glass of beer for lunch at the bar of the Civic Hotel or the Royal Canberra Golf Club, often caught the bus to work, wrote with a broad-nibbed fountain pen and spoke in monosyllables.  Wilson recalled that at lunch at the golf club 'Dick mostly talk[ed] in grunts, rather than normal sentences'.  Randall loved the bush, often heading for the hills around Canberra to fish in the trout streams, taking a rifle with him.  Small in stature, he is always numbered among the 'seven dwarfs' who dominated the Commonwealth Public Service in the decades after World War II.

Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, Randall died on 15 November 1982 in Canberra and was buried with Anglican rites in Gungahlin cemetery.  An obituary in The Times, London, recalled that he was 'a quiet, conscientious official, whose deceptively soft voice and cautious manner belied his persistence, deep knowledge of treasury affairs, and capacity for hard work'.

Select Bibliography

  • The Australian Economy, 1958
  • G. Whitwell, The Treasury Line, 1986
  • Public Administration, vol 20, no 4, 1961, p 315
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 1966, p 2
  • Canberra Times, 17 November 1982, p 8
  • Times (London), 27 November 1982, p 10
  • S. Harris, interview with R. Wilson (ts, 1991, National Library of Australia)
  • B883, item NX2883 (National Archives of Australia)

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Selwyn Cornish, 'Randall, Sir Richard John (Dick) (1906–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/randall-sir-richard-john-dick-14287/text25352, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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